There's a temptation for us fallen creatures to reduce the Church to a space of…
Opening the Word: Hearing the call of the Good Shepherd
“The word of God is never silent — though it is not always heard,” St. Augustine once preached, touching upon what is really at the heart of the spiritual life. And that is, to listen to God.
It’s been God’s plea since the beginning, ever since he called out to the first man and woman fallen and hiding in Eden (cf. Gn 3:9). To a wandering Abram and a wandering Moses, to the prophets, to John the Baptist, that’s been the constant command and invitation, the plea — to listen to God, the covenant-cutter, the liberator, the bridegroom.
|May 8 – Fourth Sunday of Easter|
Acts 13:14, 43-52
It’s also the Lord’s invitation. Think of the first of Jesus’ first words — as Mark records it — in his sermon by the sea. “Hear this,” is all he said, like God commanding Israel to hear that he is one (Mk 4:3; cf. Dt 6:4). Think also of John’s Gospel, how in Jerusalem, challenging all those around him, Jesus spoke of that mystical “hour” when the dead would hear the “voice of the Son of God” and live forever. He said, “Do not be amazed at this,” that hearing the voice of the Son leads to resurrection (Jn 5:25-29). As the Scripture reveals, this is simply the way God works. Resurrection is the perfection of God’s call, the reward for responding to his voice. When we hear, when we follow, we’re given eternal life. God’s been saving his people in just this way ever since Eden — by the voice of God, by the word going forth from the mouth of God, achieving its purpose (cf Is 55:11). It is, as theologians have long called it, the mission of the Trinitarian God. And it’s a mission still underway.
Which is how we’re to hear these beautiful words of the Lord. “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand” (Jn 10:27-28). The everlasting voice of God, now the voice of the Shepherd: It’s the voice of Jesus, and his call is to eternal life. The shepherd is a pastoral, even a political, image of leadership and care; Jesus is the real and better Shepherd, the Lord is saying, not the corrupt leaders of the day. If you want to be free, follow the true Shepherd, the good and beautiful Shepherd, not charlatans.
And belonging to the true Shepherd is not merely a matter of law or custom but, rather, a matter of relationship and faith, like being the sheep of a shepherd. To belong to Jesus the Shepherd is to hear his voice — unashamedly obedient, unashamedly a sheep of the Lord’s pasture. Such is how God welcomes believers: He calls them, and his sheep hear his voice.
And for those who hear, these are those that John saw in mystic vision, the “great multitude, which no one could count” (Rv 7:9). And these are us. At least, that’s what we hope: that we, too, hear the voice of God in Christ, that we hear Jesus call us by name. We, of course, hear Jesus the Shepherd by faith in the Scripture in the Church, shepherded by charity and the sacraments in the Church. Now, of course, at times, it takes great faith, great endurance and great suffering to hear him even in the Church. Still, that’s where we hear the Good Shepherd most clearly today, in the Church. And so, we must never stop trying to listen, no matter what.
Which is the Easter light this Gospel sheds upon all the parishes and communities of the Church: that they are not just parishes and communities but also pastures of the Good Shepherd wherein the voice of Jesus may be heard, and eternal life found. That is, if we’ll see them that way, with love and faith. And then, if we’ll listen to the Word of God, forever risen and never silent.
Father Joshua J. Whitfield is pastor of St. Rita Catholic Community in Dallas and author of “The Crisis of Bad Preaching” (Ave Maria Press, $17.95) and other books.